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In The Summertime – Mungo Jerry

“We’ve got a smash!”

In The Summertime – Mungo Jerry

Dawn DNX 2502 (UK) / Janus 125 (USA)

Recorded at Pye Studios, Marble Arch, London

Released June 1970

Writer Ray Dorset

Producer Barry Murray

UK #1   13/6/70   7 weeks    USA #3   8/70

Some 47 years down the line, ‘In The Summertime’ has undoubtedly become the summer anthem of all time, the summer equivalent of the Christmas hit, ‘White Christmas’. The fact is you only need to write one enduring hit like this and you’re set for life, as Ray Dorset has discovered. And looking back to 1970, no one was more surprised than Mungo Jerry front man Dorset who recalls that at the time his music was, “A hobby that became a job, but I never imagined music would become my career.” At the time, he was working as a laboratory researcher for watchmaker Timex and recalls he polished off most of the song one evening and completed the lyrics at work the following day. (Still working at Timex when ‘In The Summertime’ hit the charts he had to ask for time off work to appear on Top Of The Pops!)

Their name taken from the misspelled name of one of T.S.Eliott’s famed cats, Mungojerrie (Procol Harum were another group who got their name from a misspelt cat’s name!), the former ‘Good Earth Band’ played their first gig as ‘Mungo Jerry’ at the Hollywood Pop Festival in Newcastle-under-Lyme, England in May 1970. Also on the bill were Grateful Dead (playing their first British gig – a four hour epic), Free, Black Sabbath, Traffic and Steppenwolf, but in front of a 25,000 strong crowd it was Mungo Jerry’s good time blend of skiffle and jug-band blues that stole the show. In a retrospectively wise decision, the group had apparently turned down an £8 gig that weekend to appear for free at the festival!

In fact the festival had been arranged by the group’s manager/producer Barry Murray, and he added them to the bill at the last moment in order to promote their newly released ‘feel-good’ single ‘In The Summertime’. Murray, an old friend of Dorset’s, had recently replaced Tony Macaulay as in-house producer at Pye Records. Having earlier heard some of Dorset’s demos he recorded the group for Pye, though the powers that be at the company weren’t particularly impressed. However Pye, in keeping with the times, had just set up a new progressive label, Dawn, but didn’t really know what to do with it. Murray, sensing that ‘In The Summertime’ was a hit, saw his opportunity and signed Mungo Jerry to the label. Following the group’s crowd winning performance at the festival things began to move at a pace. Murray had already played ‘In The Summertime’ for maverick Radio 1 deejay John Peel who was impressed, and Peel, having witnessed their performance at the Hollywood festival began playing the song on his show.

As an extra sales gimmick, ‘Summertime’ was released and promoted as a 3-track maxi-single (the first of its kind), retailing at the same price as a normal 2-track single, and this clever little marketing trick undoubtedly increased sales. It’s perhaps worth noting that long-time and highly respected music journalist Chris Welch got it decidedly wrong in his review for Melody Maker commenting: “A good try from a cheerful jug and boogie band…unfortunately they tend to sound amateurish.” Regarding the actual recording of the song which took place at Pye’s London studios, Ray Dorset revealed to the authors of 1000 UK Number One Hits (Omnibus Press, 2005) that the song, originally clocking in at around 2 minutes and 45 seconds, was deliberately extended for financial reasons. Producer Barry Murray told him, “If we can make it a bit longer, we can go over three minutes and get double royalties,” to which Ray replied, “Well, get the sound of a car revving off and then start the song over again.” The studio engineer drove his car (a Triumph sports) past the studio and this was recorded and edited into the record which then clocked in at over 3 and a half minutes!

The following week Murray received a call from Pye Records chief Louis Benjamin who said he’d heard from the pressing plant. According to Murray, Benjamin told him, “They had taken orders for 71,000 copies over the weekend. Gloating a bit, remembering that they weren’t too keen to sign the band, I said, ‘What does that mean?’ ‘We’ve got a smash!’ he shouted.” The following week ‘In The Summertime’ shot to the top where it remained for 7 weeks, soon topping 26 charts around the world and shifting several million copies in the process. While ‘Summertime’ was the group’s only US hit, they were by no means one-hit-wonders and followed up in the UK with a series of hits including ‘Baby Jump’ (another #1), ‘Lady Rose’, ‘Alright, Alright, Alright’ and ‘Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black’ before their run on the charts ended in 1974. Ray Dorset made an unexpected return to the top of the UK charts in 1980 with his composition ‘Feels Like I’m In Love’. Dorset recalls that he’d originally written the song in 1977 with Elvis Presley in mind, but then Presley died, so he recorded it himself. Now with Polydor, the song was released in Europe, but Polydor in the UK turned it down. Dorset got his own back a few years later when he gave it to Kelly Marie and she took it to Number 1 in 1980.

Ray Dorset doesn’t really have to worry much about paying the bills for the rest of his life. ‘In The Summertime’ is, as he himself admits, his “pension”. Retrieved from radio station record libraries around the world at the first sign of summer, it has become one of the most broadcast records of all time and has garnered Mr Dorset several awards. It pops up in television advertisements with predictable regularity and appears in a number of films, most recently 2005’s Wedding Crashers – and then of course there’s additional income from mobile ring tones! Ray Dorset and his bank manager must have been thrilled when Shaggy took a new version of the song up the charts in 1995. Shaggy’s album on which the song appeared, Boombastic, was a multi-million seller.

There are of course numerous cover versions of ‘In The Summertime’ (including a Black Metal version) though rather surprisingly Ray Dorset’s favourite cover is by James Last! Perhaps the least known cover version, and surprisingly, the one that brings in the least amount of money is that made by Elton John. Before he came to fame, Elton made a few bob on the side by recording cover versions of current hits for Hallmark on their budget Top Of The Pops series in 1969 and 1970. Elton can be heard singing such hits as ‘Spirit In The Sky’, ‘Yellow River’, ‘Young, Gifted and Black'(?!) and, yes, ‘In The Summertime’. Elton’s never made a secret of this, although it was not well known outside studio circles at the time. In more recent years these ancient recordings have resurfaced and been collected on an album called Reg Dwight’s Piano Goes Pop. As for Ray Dorset, he is still highly active in 2017, working on a number of projects, and whether any of these succeed or not is neither here nor there as he is in the happy position of being able to do just as he pleases. Let’s face it – in Ray Dorset’s household it must be summertime all year round!

Though perhaps not…in another example of the good old music biz saying, ‘Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ’, in 2012 Mr Dorset obviously concluded that perhaps he didn’t have as much cash as he should have and sued his former manager and music publishers, Associated Music International, claiming they’d withheld £2 million in royalties without his knowledge. Much of this money was apparently accrued via ‘In The Summertime’s use in numerous television commercials. In 2015, with nothing better to do one day (and ‘In The Summertime’ celebrating its 45th anniversary) I sent Ray Dorset an e-mail enquiring if he had settled this suit to his satisfaction. Lo and behold a couple of days later Ray phoned me up! He explained that although ‘In The Summertime’ still brings in a nice annual income he’s not exactly “rolling in money”. Numerous legal disputes over the past ten years (including some kind of royalties swindle perpetrated in Norway) have considerably depleted his funds since in music biz legal disputes it’s usually the lawyers who make off with most of the cash. However several lawsuits have been resolved to his satisfaction, and he’d just completed a new deal for an American cruise line to use ‘In The Summertime’ in their advertising.


Copyright © 2017 SongStories/Tony Burton

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